Uh-oh! American yogis have done it again. You may have heard the recent news about the “Take Back Yoga campaign” – the goal being to remind us all of the debt that yoga owes to Hinduism (for those who were unaware). And more recently the Indian government’s Traditional Knowledge Digital Library is preparing to go online, preventing people around the world from copyrighting yogic asanas and herbal knowledge. Now two well-known yoga teachers are being accused of yogic impropriety during the International Yoga Festival in India, and an Indian yoga guru is asking the Indian government to step up and regulate the entire discipline of yoga.
During the International Yoga Festival at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh, India, renowned Kundalini yoga teacher Gurmukh struck a nerve when she closed a yoga class with the chanting of “Alleluia.” And Shiva Rea caused a walkout, offending people with her apparently low cut pants and the “freeform” movement she incorporated as part of her Trance Dance practice.
Yogi Ram, one of the yoga gurus who was offended by Gurmukh and Shiva Rea, said, “Wearing skimpy clothes, glamorizing or doing unusual things definitely affects the dignity of Yoga. The government needs to step in and retain the essence and authenticity of the traditional Indian art.” Now to be fair, I wasn’t there so I don’t know what Shiva Rea was wearing. But has Yogi Ram seen what Bikram passes off as “yoga wear” recently? Talk about scandalous! And when he says “unusual things,” is he talking about chanting “alleluia?” It just means “praise the Lord” – kind of like “haribol” if you think about it. I’m not sure how that affects the dignity of yoga, but I am sure Gurmukh meant no disrespect or offense to anyone by using the word “alleluia.”
Rishikesh is a popular destination for traveling yogis from around the world, including Spirit Voyage’s own Ramdesh Kaur. And Parmarth Niketan Ashram is the site of the 11.11.11 Kundalini Yoga Festival. For seven days, concluding on 11.11.11, Gurmukh, Guru Dev, Guru Singh, and Snatam Kaur will all be teaching and sharing their light at this event. The organizers have a section on the event website devoted to staying in an ashram, including what types of clothing are most respectful and appropriate for the men and women attending the event. Hopefully that will at least prevent the same wardrobe complaints lodged against Shiva Rea!
While I can certainly sympathize with the fact that clothing and word choices can cause discomfort, asking the government to regulate yoga seems a bit far-fetched. I wouldn’t want Congress regulating yoga in America, as I assume most Congress people don’t practice yoga. So why would the government of India be different? I’m not sure what Yogi Ram and others hope to accomplish in this campaign, assuming the government of India chooses not to get involved. Yoga has come to America; it has planted roots, seeped into our culture, and found new ways of expressing itself. So at an international yoga festival, American teachers are bound to share what they are doing. As long as they are doing it respectfully, and as long as no one is being forced to participate, I see no harm.